THE Bulawayo “bombing” incident last Saturday has brought into sharp focus the deteriorating relations between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga at a time a multi-agency security team has been established to investigate the attack which experts say was an inside job.
By Owen Gagare
The explosion occurred soon after Mnangagwa left the stage following his address at White City Stadium. Co-Vice-President Kembo Mohadi and Chiwenga were behind Mnangagwa.
Scores of people, among them, Chiwenga and Mohadi security aides, were injured in the explosion, while many others were treated for shock. Chiwenga and Mohadi security aides later died from injuries.
Zanu PF and security insiders say although the suspects and motive of the attack have not yet been established, the incident had resulted in suspicions and mistrust deepening between the Mnangagwa and Chiwenga camps.
The Zimbabwe Independent has, since February, been reporting on the gradually intensifying tension between Mnangagwa and the military clique surrounding him, amid concerns that the army has been exerting overbearing influence on the executive.
Official sources say the military has been exercising veto power in some instances, while also influencing the operations of government and other security organs.
Senior government officials have been telling the Independent that the military element in Zanu PF has serious political ambitions, to the extent that they want Mnangagwa to serve only one term, if he wins the July 30 presidential elections, before handing the baton over to Chiwenga, who is also in charge of the ministries of defence and war veterans. Hardliners want him to leave before finishing his first term, hence the impeachment plot.
“Tension has been simmering between the two for some time despite the show of unity in public. Given that there has been mistrust between the two most powerful persons in the country and that the target and motive of the attack has not been established, it is difficult to rule out the possibility that the attack could have originated from the unresolved leadership issues,” a Zanu PF official said.
“In any assassination attempt there is usually a target and rarely do you have two or more targets. It’s possible that Chiwenga was the target because the explosion occurred soon after Mnangagwa had left and Chiwenga was about to leave the stage.
“It’s also possible that Mnangagwa was the target and the assassins missed their target. The device used had a low impact range, which indicates that possibly there was an attempt to limit collateral damage, and this may have contributed to the target escaping.”
Mnangagwa, who assumed power following a military coup which deposed former president Robert Mugabe, on Wednesday said he does not trust former first lady Grace.
Grace was the leader of the G40 faction which tried to derail Mnangagwa’s succession ambitions before being defeated in last November’s coup. He said his G40 enemies could have tried to assassinate him.
Only last month Mnangagwa claimed he had unearthed a plot by disgruntled party parliamentary candidates to impeach him soon after winning the general elections.
Addressing a Zanu PF healing and reconciliation workshop in Harare, Mnangagwa said he had gathered from state security agents that the alleged plot involved party members sympathetic to Mugabe.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba told a local daily this week that the assassination attempt could have been caused by internal leadership contestation that has not been resolved.
“Why don’t we wait and see what the investigation will yield? Except we are saying these attempts have been done in the past, and that tells you that it might have something to do with the contestation that has not yet been resolved, even internally,” Charamba said.
Security experts and investigators told the Independent that the assassination attempt had all the hallmarks of an inside job and was executed by someone with a security background.
They said in an assassination or criminal investigation, it is always crucial to determine the motive and whether the attacker was acting alone, while the means used is also crucial in identifying suspects.
Security experts have ruled out the possibility that the attack could have been carried out by opposition party members, Bulawayo’s vocal pressure groups or a civilian.
“You have to look at who would have benefitted most if either Mnangagwa or Chiwenga was assassinated. It’s certainly not the opposition, because Zanu PF will just choose another leader and there is a possibility of a severe crackdown. So there is no motive there,” said a security expert.
“Besides, the opposition has no history of such type of violence and they do not have ready access to things such as bombs and grenades. So the opposition and pressure groups have been ruled out, expect of course the G40 element in Zanu PF because they are part of the system.
“The question is who then? It’s obvious it’s people with access to weapons such as bombs or grenades and this would be people linked to the government and security services, such as the military. In any case, whoever detonated the explosive device had knowledge of how it works, hence the indications that it was carried out by someone from the security sector, but most likely the perpetrator had a brief from someone.”
Divisions between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga started showing soon after the military coup in November last year. The coup catapulted Mnangagwa to high office, ending Mugabe’s 37-year grip on power. Chiwenga was the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces when the coup occurred.
Mnangagwa had initially appointed Oppah Muchinguri as one of his deputies, but the military demanded that the position be given to Chiwenga, who also insisted on being in charge of defence and war veterans.
Mnangagwa also wanted to appoint war veteran Victor Matemadanda as Zanu PF’s national commissar, but the military demanded that one of the senior commanders secure the post, resulting in Retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje’s appointment.
Rugeje, with the help of the military, ran the Zanu PF primary elections on April 29, which resulted in Mnangagwa’s key backers losing, culminating in a fallout.
The internal elections were marred by a series of problems ranging from logistical difficulties, delays in delivering ballot papers and other material, missing names of candidates, mix-ups, violence, manipulation, vote-buying and fraud.